Another chance for Modi to exhibit his oration skills

The promptness shown by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan in admitting the no confidence motion against the Centre  and the Narendra Modi government showing even greater promptness in holding this debate Friday—only two days after Parliament opened for its Monsoon Session—stumped the Opposition, which had been making noises over the issue since a washed-out latter half of the Budget Session.

File image of prime minister Narendra Modi.

It has become the subject of much debate as to why the ruling BJP leadership acted with this kind of alacrity from the word go in the Monsoon Session. More so, when it didn’t take cognisance of such attempts earlier, remained non-committal, and used all kinds of stalling tactics in last session.

Firstpost spoke to senior BJP leaders to get a few reasons why the ruling party acted this way:

First, although the Congress, its allies and those friendly to its cause, were rooting for a no-confidence motion against the Modi government, they were not in a hurry to have it debated on floor of the House. They were aware that once the issue was debated and voted, they wouldn’t have anything else to cling to against the government in this session.

This is the monsoon season: Heavy rain may bring down the temperature in some parts, but the run-up to the four Assembly elections—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram—have made political conditions too hot to bear. The BJP and the Congress are pitted head-to-head in these states and the outcome of these Assembly elections could potentially set the tone for 2019 parliamentary elections. The Congress and its allies would like this Monsoon Session to be stormy.

Consider the proceedings of the House on Wednesday when the Speaker accepted the no-confidence motion. Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha, and Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy urged the Speaker to fix a date within 10 days for debate and vote on the no-confidence motion.

This clearly indicated they were not particularly keen to have it immediately. Remember, this session only has 18 working days, of which three are on Friday, a day usually reserved for private member business.

Second, by accepting the motion and putting it on within three days of Parliament opening, the BJP wishes to expose the Opposition, particularly Congress president Rahul Gandhi. In April, the Congress president said if he is allowed to give “a speech for 15 minutes” then Modi would not be able to stand in Parliament. Effectively meaning that the Congress president, through his oratory, would vanquish Modi, so much so that he would run away from Parliament. Rahul earlier said the government was not letting him speak in Parliament because if he speaks there would be an “earthquake”. BJP Rajya Sabha MP and media cell chief Anil Baluni said, “Rahul must speak. Let that earthquake come, if he is able to cause it.”

Third, Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday said: “Who says we don’t have numbers?” (to topple the Modi government). The last time she made such a statement was in 1999 after meeting President KR Narayanan at Rashtrapati Bhavan when she asserted: “We have 272 and we hope to get more”. She didn’t have the numbers. Even this time around, the Congress is on a hopelessly weak footing in terms of numbers.

BJP leaders have already started mocking Sonia’s statement. Parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar said, “Sonia is very weak in mathematics and thus can’t calculate the numbers. She got it wrong in 1999 and she is getting it wrong this time.”

Fourth, in a House whose strength is 534 seats (10 vacancies) excluding the Speaker, the TDP, which is moving the motion has 16 MPs. The Congress, the largest party supporting the motion has 48 seats. To defeat the Modi government on floor of the House, the Congress would need the support of 268 members, present and voting. The BJP has 273 seats.

Fifth, prompt acceptance of no-confidence motion denied the Congress a chance to move the motion and initiate the debate Friday morning.  The earliest any member of Congress could speak under the circumstances is at number three on the Speaker’s list, and within allocated time. Usually, the leader who opens the debate sets the agenda for the day. The Congress’ name would not be on the record and it is usually the lead speaker who has the luxury of time. Though Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge was among the eight leaders who submitted notices for no-confidence motion to the Speaker, TDP leader K Srinivas beat them all to it.

Sixth, the BJP may use the no-confidence motion as an occasion to send the message that the so-called Opposition unity is not a reality. The fact that eight different leaders from different Opposition parties filed notices for no-confidence indicates that either the coordination among Opposition parties was lacking or each party was trying to prove a point against the other.

Seventh, if the BJP succeeds in getting a number higher than 314 (NDA’s strength in Lok Sabha), that would be a huge talking point against the Opposition in the upcoming days. AIADMK has already said it would not vote for the Opposition-sponsored motion and would vote for the government. AIADMK has 37 MPs.

Eighth, by deciding to have a debate on Friday, the government sought to kill any pretext for the Opposition to disrupt the proceedings of the House. The government has to get several important Bills including Triple Talaq, those on Goods and Services Tax (GST), ratification of Governor’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir and passage of those all-important six Bills which would replace ordinances. These include Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill which introduces death penalty for rape of minors below 12, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, and Commercial Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill aims to confiscate the property of those that have fled the country to avoid facing prosecution for economic offences. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, was introduced in Lok Sabha in March 2018. Subsequently, an Ordinance was promulgated on 21 April, 2018. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill increases the punishment for rape of women, and introduces death penalty for rape of minor girls below the age of 12. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill aims to address existing challenges in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.

Ninth, the no-confidence motion gives an opportunity to the government to claim that it is not afraid of any issue raised by the Opposition.

Tenth, and most important, it allows Modi, the master orator and communicator, to take the floor of Parliament when an overwhelming number of Indians in all parts of the country would be listening intently. It would be an occasion to list the achievements of his government, take on Rahul and rest of Opposition leaders in his characteristic style: Mixing substance and rhetoric and unveil new expressions which would be talked about for ages. Friday would be the time for the rock star speaker in Modi to rise. Till date, he has not disappointed his supporters and sympathisers.

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